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Western Pennsylvania drivers at bottom of insurer's safety rankings

Eric Felack | Trib Total Media
State Police and Eureka Fire-Rescue work at the scene of a one-car crash that damaged about 214-feet of guide cable on the Route 28 Expressway northbound, just north of Exit 14 in Fawn, on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. State police said Levi Parks Grafton, 21, of East Franklin was driving a new Ford Focus, at about 11:30 a.m. when he was momentarily distracted. The car hit a gravel patch at the side of the road and then slammed into the guide cable. Graton, who used a seatbelt and was also protected by air bags, wasn't injured. His car was towed. A trooper said Grafton will be cited with careless driving.

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Bobby Kerlik
Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

Pittsburgh drivers continued to plummet in a driver safety ranking released on Tuesday.

Allstate Insurance, one of the nation's largest vehicle insurers, said Pittsburgh skidded 12 spots from last year to rank 187th out of 200 metro areas in its 10th annual America's Best Drivers Report.

The report shows that, on average, Pittsburghers have an accident every 6.6 years, compared with every 14.2 years for residents of first-place Fort Collins, Colo. Philadelphia ranked 192nd with accidents every 6.2 years, and Worcester, Mass., was last with its drivers getting into accidents an average of every 4.3 years.

“The only thing that surprises me about that is that I feel like there's been a lot of studies that say we're some of the most friendly drivers,” said Rachel McVeagh, 32, of Edgewood, who commutes daily through the Squirrel Hill and Fort Pitt tunnels. “But it's on my mind every day. I wonder if I'm going to be in an accident. I feel like I'm overdue (for an accident) with the amount of accidents I pass by.”

Allstate compiles the report based on accidents customers reported in 2011 and 2012. Allstate has about 10 percent of auto insurance policies nationwide.

“It's accidents that generate a claim. We don't look at injuries or the reason behind a crash,” said Julia Reusch, an Allstate spokeswoman. “We're aware there's more congestion, especially in a city like Pittsburgh where there's bridges, tunnels with no shoulders, compared to out west like Fort Collins where they're not driving in those tight areas. Our only goal is to raise awareness.”

Reusch said Allstate does not base its rates on the report.

Sam Marshall, president and CEO of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, said it's difficult to compare insurance rates because states have different rules. Driver history and type of vehicle factor in as well.

“Generally more accidents translate into higher rates. Auto rates certainly have a regional variance, but overall I think we have had rate stability in the last two decades,” Marshall said.

PennDOT statistics show accidents statewide declined in the past decade even as the number of registered vehicles increased. PennDOT recorded 124,149 crashes in 2013 compared to 140,197 in 2003, an 11.4 percent decrease.

Dan Cessna, PennDOT District 11 executive, whose territory includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, said the parkways are the “heaviest accident corridors.”

“(Higher ranked cities) might have more transportation options, wider roads or more lanes in comparison to our tight urban terrain. That doesn't mean we can't safely drive, but those factors can play into driver behavior,” Cessna said.

Cessna pointed to planned improvements on the Parkway West, a study of how to improve the Parkway East and recent improvements to Penn Avenue in Point Breeze and Broughton Road in the South Hills.

“We always want to improve,” Cessna said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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